October 14th, 2019: Thanksgiving shorebirding!
I was happy to back able to get out for part of the day on Thanksgiving in absolutely perfect fall weather. We’d had a Thanksgiving lunch (my wife’s suggestion) so I was able to spend the afternoon and early evening down in Delta. This gave me a catch the shorebirds at high tide and hopefully to get a better look at the continuing Bar-tailed Godwit.
You won’t be surprised to find out that I started at Reifel. I was still trying to see that darn Black Phoebe: a rarity that has continued to elude me for over a month. I’ve tried to find it 3 different times now. And today was no different for me, even though other birders found it in the southwest marsh (a weird spot for it). Still, Reifel is always a treat. It was lovely to see so many families out with their toddlers chasing after the ducks, before being immediately told not to.
I was pleased to see 45 species at Reifel this afternoon. Not a big number, but lots of new waterfowl arriving in force now (15 waterfowl species today). This included at least 4000 Snow Goose, absolutely cacophonous on the flats. Doubly so whenever a raptor buzzed them.
I was thrilled to see a flock of 34 adorable Cackling Goose (among Canada Goose) in the southwest pond. The smallest cacklers are a little bigger than a Mallard and a have a much smaller beak:head ratio than a Canada Goose. Usually, one or two Cackling Goose will show up in large flocks of other goose species. To see this many in their own group is somewhat unusual.
Other highlights at Reifel were a lone Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, Hermit Thrush, 6 Long-billed Dowitcher, 2 Belted Kingfisher, and a pair of (late) Blue-winged Teal (eBird list).
But the tide was coming up, so I needed to head out to Boundary Bay. A brief stop at 96 didn’t yield a lot, so I headed over to 104. There, I met up with several other skilled birders and we scoured the flats with our scopes.
Between us we turned up a ton of great birds! The bulk of the large flock that kept accumulating at the base of 104 had (estimated very conservatively): 1000 Black-bellied Plover, 2000 Dunlin, 500 Sanderling, and 150 Western Sandpiper. The group kept moving closer and closer to the dyke as the tide came in. It’s always interesting to me to see where different species place themselves: from a few inches of water, to several meters away from it, and everything in between.
Of course, we didn’t just see these 4 species (eBird list). Mixed in with them, we found some Least Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, a Pectoral Sandpiper, Red Knot, Pacific Golden-Plover, American Golden-Plover, Marbled Godwit, Willet, and…Bar-tailed Godwit! It was a good ways east from 104 (toward 112), but well in view through the scope. What a bird!
I could easily make out the plain light brown-gray of the bird overall. Plus its two-tone beak with a very pale pink base and strong supercilium were clear. Even its barred tail was visible in some postures.
Mostly it stood, motionless with its bill tucked away. But it did forage in the shallow water a little before the sun set. You’ll get no complains from me! I hasten to add that Bar-tailed Godwits are some of the (if not the) most long-distance travellers. In 2007, one bird was tracked one a non-stop(!) flight from western Alaska to New Zealand. She set a new known flight record of 11,680km (7,258mi)!!
Weirdly, the most unlikely bird I spotted today was a very late Semipalmated Sandpiper. They’re relatively common through most of migration. But it’s so late now that one of our trusty eBird volunteers sent me an email asking me about the sighting. (Thank you to all of those volunteers for helping to keep the excellent eBird database shipshape!)
So many great birds at Boundary Bay again today. This place is truly a wonder…